All-Time WAR Leaderboard for Players Who Share a Name with a Wine Grape Variety
Yesterday morning’s losing pitcher, Andrew Carignan, has a mid 90s fastball, and the surname of a lesser-known Rhone varietal that’s often blended with syrah or grenache. This is odd, to say the least, and can be problematic for people like me who tend to see these coincidences as yet another reason to imbibe. It’s not unprecedented, however. There have been several players who share a name with a vinifera grape varietal who’ve made an appearance in professional baseball, but only two have achieved anything approaching fame.
Cotton “Cot” Tierney was an infielder with the Pirates, Braves and Dodgers (Robins, technically) who, despite a few very good years, is remembered today mostly for the website named in his honor, Cot’s Contracts, which collects salary data on MLB players. Cot is also the original name of the Malbec grape, which was developed ages ago in Cahors and Bordeaux, but achieved success as a varietal much later when transplanted in Argentina. Tierney’s career was cut short due to injury, and Cot (the grape) is similarly susceptible to rot, disease and frost.
Joe Charboneau burst on to the scene as a 27 year old rookie with the Indians in 1980. He won the AL Rookie of the year following a 23 HR, .289/.258/.488 season for the Tribe, then quickly faded into obscurity, playing only 70 more MLB games before calling it quits. “Super Joe” was perhaps more famous for his off-field antics, including opening beer bottles with his eye sockets and eating cigarettes. Before his baseball career, he was an enterprising prize fighter, boxing for $25 wherever he could – a habit that led to several arrests and a life-long penchant for bar fights, the latest of which occurred just over two years ago. In an eerie echo of Tierney, the grape varietal known as Charbono or Charbonneau – which arose in France but wasn’t widely cultivated – thrived in Argentina, where, under the name Bonarda, it became the second most widely planted varietal after Cot/Malbec.
Carignan represents the second wave of vinifera baseball talents to hit the major leagues. In addition to the A’s righty, there’s Antonio Bastardo of Philadelphia who shares a name with a Portuguese varietal, and Russ Canzler, whose surname is awfully close to the German white wine varietal, Kanzler. Carignan, the varietal, is often referred to as “full bodied” and “rustic.” What adjectives come to mind when you look at Andrew Carignan, reader? Bastardo is most often used in port, and Antonio Bastardo is a port-sider. Russ Canzler was basically unknown before Dirk Hayhurst called attention to his exploits, and until he won the International League’s MVP in 2011. You’d never heard of Kanzler until this paragraph.
Bastardo’s got the early lead, having put up a solid 0.7 WAR with a gaudy ERA and win total last year. Canzler caught on with the Indians, and is in a fight for the LF job with Shelley Duncan. Carignan and his 95 mph fastball hopes to have better games than today/yesterday’s in Tokyo. Will one of these three challenge Tierney’s all-time WAR lead? Will one of them post a 2+ WAR season like Charboneau? Will they achieve lasting success an ocean away, say, in Japan? It’s too early to tell, but I’ll be watching closely.
1: I’ve excluded two named after varietals even more obscure than Kanzler – Kevin Flora of the Phillies and the delightfully named Colonel “Bosco” Snover who played 2 games in 1919. Both of them amassed negative WAR, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
2: How about the minor leagues, you ask? Yes, there are a number who never made the majors, including Primitivo Molina and what is quite possibly the most wine-drenched name in baseball, Henry Madera Graciano.
3: What about players named after hop varietals? Well, like wine varietals there are a few who never made the bigs, but the career MLB WAR leaderboard includes just one name: ex-Mariner Sterling Hitchcock. By fWAR, Hitchcock’s racked up 12.2 WAR, which is comfortably more than the total WAR earned by the wine-players. Score one for beer, I guess. By rWAR, Hitchcock drops to 7 WAR, but Tierney’s down to 4 and Charboneau’s only at 1.1.
4: Feel free to add in others that I missed in the comments. If there was a player named Fuggles, I’d love to know about it.